State training body Solas discriminated against an employee who was asked at an interview whether he should be “taking it easier” at his age, an Equality Tribunal has found.
The complaint against Solas was taken by Dave Barry (60), an IT instructor with the Limerick Training Centre who unsuccessfully applied for a role as assistant manager in 2014.
Mr Barry was awarded €20,000 after the Equality Tribunal concluded he was asked a question that was discriminatory on the basis of age. It also agreed with Mr Barry’s contention that he was unfairly marked down on his experience for the role.
In evidence given to the tribunal during a hearing in August 2016, Mr Barry recalled that he felt “deflated” after being asked by one of the interviewers: “Do you think at this stage that you should be taking it easier?”
Mr Barry took this to be a reference to his age, and said the question “made assumptions about his ability to do the job based on his age”. He “could not sleep at night” following the interview as he felt “an injustice had been done”.
He also felt aggrieved that his various educational qualifications were “demeaned” as continuous professional development courses, as stated in a marking sheet he requested after the interview had taken place.
This implied that his substantial dedication to attaining respected qualifications in IT and computer systems was equivalent to taking part in day-long courses in fire safety or manual handling, it was added.
The tribunal heard Mr Barry felt hard done by as he considered himself to have ample experience for the job on offer, having worked as a teacher and lecturer for four decades. The job was eventually given to a 38-year-old who had 19 years’ less experience than Mr Barry as an instructor.
After airing his grievance during a meeting with the interviewers, Mr Barry then escalated the matter to the director of organisational development with Solas, who told him his complaint could not be substantiated and there was “no evidence” that age was a determinant in the recruitment process.
In its response to the Equality Tribunal claim, Solas denied Mr Barry was discriminated against because of his age.
It also denied the question was asked in the manner portrayed by Mr Barry, instead saying he was asked, “What motivates you to take on this role at this stage in your career?” as he was “not portraying his previous experience to his advantage at the interview”.
‘Misrepresenting the situation’
In her determination, adjudicating officer Orlaith Mannion criticised Solas for “misrepresenting the situation” by contending that a different candidate who was closer to Mr Barry’s age got the job when this was in fact not the case.
She described Mr Barry as a “compelling witness” who made the complaint “in good faith”. She could “easily understand” how the question would deflate Mr Barry for the rest of the interview.
Having accepted Mr Barry’s wording for the question asked, the adjudicating officer said the interview panel appeared to treat him as an “also ran” from that point on, and “ignored” various aspects of his past experience both as an entrepreneur and an educator.
As well as ordering the €20,000 payment, the tribunal advised that Solas review its employment policies, particularly in reference to age, and recommended that all interviewers receive training on the Employment Equality Acts.